Creating Historical Footprints

With over 24 million visitors a year, South Africa’s V&A Waterfront is one of the most visited places in Africa. The V&A Waterfront is a mixed-use development with more than 80 restaurants, indoor shopping and has become a tourist destination in the heart of Cape Town’s harbour. A signature feature of the Waterfront is the beautiful terrazzo floor tiling that is laid out throughout the property.

“That was a huge success for us,” says Neil Sterley, Projects Manager at Union Tiles’ head office. “Millions of people walk through the waterfront on an annual basis and the terrazzo project has been there for 20 years. And if you as a visitor walk through the V&A Waterfront, you would never believe that the product has been there for that long.

“And the good news is that it’s going to be there for another 120 years. It does great things for us. It’s the silent salesman. It brings in a lot of big business for us.”

Importance of Terrazzo

Union Tiles is a multidimensional wall and floor tiling corporation thatwas founded in 1922 by the Ghisleni family. The company’s three directors are Vincent Ghisleni, Ross De Abreu and Robert Ghisleni. The business is made up of three divisions with each one specializing in various flooring and wall tiles.

“The three divisions are very simple,” explains Sterley. “Obviously we have UMT, that’s one division and that’s purely ceramic and porcelain tile together with adhesives and mosaics. The other division would be Natural and plays a very important role in our business. It comprises of natural stone of whichUnion Tiles is the biggest distributor in the southern hemisphere.

“We also do marble, granite, quartz and many other natural materials. Finally we’ve got the Flooring division which is comprised of the terrazzo product, the first product Union Tiles produced in 1922.”

Not only does Union Tiles have the biggest showroom in the southern hemisphere, it is the exclusive manufacturer of terrazzo tiling.

“The terrazzo product plays a huge role in our business,” says Sterley. “Nobody else can produce this product. What’s important about the terrazzo product is the footprint of the product. It’s ecofriendly. It’s got a 60 per cent recycle value and that is critical to architects.”

Since its inception nearly a century and a quarter ago, Union Tiles has experienced consistent growth irrespective of economic downturns. The company was able to navigate the 2008 Global recession because of its ‘smart’ approach to the business.

Working S.M.A.R.T

“We all know that we’ve been through a recession and it’s been a tough one,” says Sterley. “We were able to get through this recession and it gives you an indication of what the company is and what the company is capable of doing.

“We got through the recession by working smart…I look at the ‘s’ that comes from smart and I say we’ve been specific in reaching our goals. When we look at the ‘m’, we’ve been measurable in reaching our goals. When you look at the ‘a’ in smart, we look at the attainable part of our goals.

“When you look at the ‘r’ we look at being totally realistic about reaching our goals. And the most essential part of being smart, the letter‘t’ with is doing things with time bounds.

“We didn’t put our heads down. We kept our relationships strong with our clients and we ensured that service was maintained at a high level. Our major clients never walked away and they continued to support us. These are all aspects that kept us going in therecession. It’s not about how hard you work; it’s about how smart you work.”

Working with Databuild

With an on-going client base, Union Tiles has worked with the world’s most recognizable brands. The company is the exclusive contractor for ABSA bank, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group and has worked with Nando’s, McDonald’s and KFC.

Union Tiles has an ongoing relationship with Databuild, a company that collects project information in the building industry and connects retailers, manufacturers, suppliers and contractors in the construction sector.

“We have a very good relationship with Databuild,” explains Sterley. “We hold Databuild in high regard and we take the exercise of the program and we use it very effectively…We don’t miss out on a project. We have a total of 8 branches locally and can handle all of the necessary projects that are given to us by Databuild.”

In addition to those branches, Union Tiles has a presence in Zambia and Windhoek. They are also in the early stages of discussions to open a showroom in Mozambique and Botswana. A respected name in Africa, Union Tiles often has times, whereby visitors from all parts of the continent come to visit the company’s showroom.

“Union Tiles has been successful because of the ethical side of the business,” says Sterley. “Everything that is done at Union Tiles, for example, our internal staff, are trained well. There’s the honesty attached to it. The company has a very good name. I would say that the reasons why Union Tiles has been successful and for so long, is the consistency of them being ethical and proud of what the business stands for.”